The Palestinians will give the United States several more weeks to try to relaunch direct peace talks with Israel, but will not buckle on their key demand for a halt to Israeli settlement activity, a top Palestinian official said on Thursday. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that an Arab League decision on October 9 giving the United States one month to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop settlements could slip — but that the core demand would remain unchanged.
“They’re saying that efforts may need two or three more weeks,” Erekat told reporters after a meeting with U.S. Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell in Washington. “If the Americans needed two more weeks they can have the two more weeks,” Erekat said. “We’re waiting to hear from the Americans and there is no reason to convene the Arab follow-up committee until we hear what the Americans have to offer.” “The key is in Netanyahu’s hands,” Erekat said. “The choice is his: settlements or peace. He cannot have both.” Netanyahu is due to visit the United States next week and meet with both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said on Thursday she was working non-stop to try to find a way out of the impasse. “I am very involved in finding a way forward and I think we will be able to do so,” Clinton told reporters in New Zealand, where she is on an official visit. Erekat said Palestinians remained focused on the direct talks as a way of achieving a two-state solution which U.S. President Barack Obama hopes will see a deal within a year to create independent Palestine living peacefully beside Israel. But he said the Palestinian leadership was also considering other options, including seeking both U.S. and United Nations Security Council recognition of a Palestinian state. “I hope that the United States of America, when we go to the Security Council to seek a full membership for the State of Palestine, will not oppose us,” Erekat said. Erekat did not give a timeline for this possible move, which the State Department said on Thursday could be an unwelcome complication. “We have made clear all along that unilateral steps, either by the Israelis or by the Palestinians, undermine the direct negotiation which is the only way to resolve the core issues, reach an agreement and end the conflict,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.